The intensity, direction, and quality of lighting have a profound effect on the way an image is perceived. Light affects the way colors are rendered, both in terms of hue and depth, and can focus attention on particular elements of the composition. Much like movement in the cinema, the history of lighting technology is intrisically linked to the history of film style. Most mainstream films rely on the three-point lighting style, and its genre variations. Other films, for example documentaries and realist cinema, rely on natural light to create a sense of authenticity.
THREE-POINT LIGHTINGThe standard lighting scheme for classical narrative cinema. In order to model an actor's face (or another object) with a sense of depth, light from three directions is used, as in the diagram below. A backlight picks out the subject from its background, a bright key light highlights the object and a fill light from the opposite side ensures that the key light casts only faint shadows.
These shots from Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956) demostrate the classical use of three-point lighting. Laurel Bacall and Rock Hudson are rendered glamorous by the balanced lighting. Compare this to the manipulation of lighting for expressive purposes on the high-key lighting and low-key lighting pages.